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Scratching the Chalkboard: Give Diaz the Ball

Good things happen when Diaz has the ball on his feet

MLS: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas continued their hot form at home by taking care of the visiting Portland Timbers, pushing their unbeaten run to 19 matches. With the victory, Dallas put themselves 7 points clear of the table and their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is now just 5. It also lowered their magic number to 17 for the Supporter’s Shield. (h/t to @MLSMagicNumber for doing the work there.

Despite being depleted of five players due to World Cup Qualifying this weekend, Dallas completely dismantled the defending MLS Cup champions by jumping to an early 1-0 lead and never looking back. The makeshift lineup did what they did best, and utilized and efficient game plan to put the club closer to some silveware.

Stop Their #10

It didn’t matter that the Timbers were without Darlington Nagbe, when they still had Diego Valeri to trot out onto the pitch. Valeri, much like Mauro Diaz, is the team’s game changer and can single handily decide a match with a lone touch. Oscar Pareja trusted Juan Ortiz to deliver the goods and play the designated defensive mid, and allow Victor Ulloa to get forward. The end result, aside from the 87th minute consolation goal, was a nullified Valeri:

(Green - successful pass. Red - unsuccessful pass. Yellow - key pass.)

This was Valeri’s entire passing chart from the match, where his biggest contribution was swinging the ball from one side of the field to the other but was otherwise neutralized for much of the match.

If Valeri’s isn’t on point, then Portland’s offense suffers, especially without Nagbe to help pick up the slack. In the end, Portland’s shot chart was very indicative of their offensive performance:

(Green - shot on target. Red - shot off target. Yellow - shot blocked)

The Timbers essentially had one shot on goal - that Valerli goal, and I should point out that Lucas Melano did have an absolute cannon at the top of the box that hit the post. A minute later, Dallas would go up 3-0 and put Portland out of their misery. Had that shot gone in and made the game 2-1, this would’ve been a very different match.

Unleash Our #10

With Ortiz and the Dallas defense keeping Portland at bay, someone had to lead the offensive line and thankfully, Diaz was up to the task.

Usually Diego Chara is tasked with man hunting Diaz, but for some reason, 2016 has not been Chara’s year in shutting down the Magical Unicorn. Diaz floated everywhere between the lines and side to side to get on the ball and link up with his teammates. For Dallas, the more times Diaz touches the ball, the greater their chances of winning. Chara, Jewsbury and company did an awful job of tracking and cutting off passing lanes and Diaz ended his night 56/67 passing (84%), 3 key passes, 1 goal and 1 assist.

And naturally, when Diaz sees a lot of the ball, the end result looks like this: (Dallas’ shot chart).

Hidden Gem

Lost in all of this may have been the work of Victor Ulloa, who’s injury time strike before half time, found the team their game winner. Ulloa’s passing contribution was ridiculous:

That’s 67/71 (94%) on the night with 2 key passes and a goal. But more impressively was his ability to find Diaz consistently through the night. Altogether, Ulloa completed a team high 19 passes to Diaz, giving Dallas’ playmaker as much of the ball as possible.

Enjoy Him While He’s Here

Walker “Texas Ranger” Zimmerman has essentially elevated his game to another level ever since that epic penalty kick against Seattle last year. With Zach Loyd out most of the year injured, Zimmerman has taken command of the CB spot and has consistently dominated league play.

This doesn’t tell you everything, but Walker’s 7 clearances (purple) were massive last night in containing Fanendo Adi. The goal also gives him three for the year, tying him with six others for the most goals among defenders.

Zimmerman always had a high ceiling and now that his hamstring injuries appear to be behind him, it will only be a matter of time before he heads across the pond to test himself in another league.